Our First Golf Trip to Scotland

It is difficult to play golf for any length of time without hearing about the famous golf courses around the world. Golf began its gradual spread late in the 1800s. But this only happened after an incubation period of three or four hundred years in Scotland.During that time the rules of the game were formulated, the basic equipment was developed, and many of the ancient Scottish golf courses took on mythic status. And that is why, to this day, one of the dreams of most golfers is to visit the ancient golfing links of Scotland.After a couple years of planning our own first golfing trip to Scotland became a reality in 2001.

It was the result of a house swap that Judy and I arranged with an acquaintance who lived in Linlithgow, an historic town in the middle of the southern part of Scotland. Our Scottish contact would use our Florida house for two weeks in July, and we would reciprocate by using their house in Linlithgow. This sort of arrangement is very popular with people from England, Scotland and Ireland.The Linlithgow trade sounded perfect.

It is roughly 50 miles from St. Andrews, midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh. We had done a fair bit of research and had already decided we wanted to be near enough to St. Andrews to visit.

But what we really wanted to do was get a less sanitized feeling for the country by playing a few of the more obscure, remote courses further north in the Highlands.As a focus for our trip we decided to visit Royal Dornoch three or so hours north of Edinburgh, and Machrihanish over on the Mull of Kintyre about as close to Ireland as you can get on mainland Scotland.So we had booked a two night stay in the beautiful little town of Dornoch during our first week, and another two night stay at a quaint old bed and breakfast in Campbelltown about ten miles from Macrahanish.Both of these towns have an interesting history going back hundreds of years. But of course, our primary interest was the golf courses that lay just outside of town. These are two ancient golf courses at opposite ends of Scotland, both with a well-deserved reputation for authenticity.

Their remote locations almost guarantee they will not be overrun by masses of golfers.We spent the first couple days at Linlithgow seeing the local sites. The first night there just happened to be a jousting match on the grounds of the Linlithgow Palace -- an historic ruin that was once the home of Mary Queen of Scots.Before leaving for Dornoch on Wednesday we wanted to play at least one round in the south. Our host had recommended we go over to North Berwick just south of Muirfield on the east coast (the St.

Andrews side).So we played our first round of golf in Scotland at North Berwick. This was a fitting start to our trip, since North Berwick is considered a "primitive" links course with quirky features such as blind shots and walls you have to shoot over.

It is the home of the original "Redan" par three -- which at the time seemed fairly unremarkable. Since then we have learned this hole has been copied by golf course designers more than any other in the world.My own most memorable shot was the approach at #13, "The Pit".

I hit what I thought was a beautiful iron just over the stone wall onto the green (yes, there is a wall in front of the green!) When we got there it was down in the "pit" behind the green and required a massive uphill putt, which turned into at least a four-putt before I got it down.The next day we visited St. Andrews.

Having played at North Berwick we were now accustomed to the "public" nature of these courses. People are perfectly free to walk across the fairway to and from the beach. So this gave us the opportunity to walk parts of The Old Course. We walked out a couple holes along the beach side, then came back along the famous "Road Hole" (17) and along the road to the even more famous Swilcan Bridge over the "burn" on 18.On Tuesay we played the local course at Linlithgow as a guest of our host. This offered an interesting taste of the other kind of course in Scotland -- an inland or parkland course -- more like what we Canadians are used to, but a bit more rugged.

Then on Wednesday we headed north to Dornoch for what was to be perhaps the most memorable part of our trip. Dornoch is a beautiful little town on the Dornoch Firth about 30 miles north of Inverness. The town itself is historically significant as one of the focal points for "the clearances" that took place in the 1840s. This was when the Duke of Sutherland evicted his peasant farmers and replaced them with sheep.

This event still forms part of the bitter undercurrent in the relationship between locals and nobles, peasants and gentry, Scottish and English. Dornoch is also the site of the last witch burning that took place in the Great Britain.The golf course at Royal Dornoch is one of the most famous in the world. Its isolation makes it even more appealling for golf romantics like me.

On Wednesday night we walked the course as darkness settled in (at around 11pm).Then on Thursday I played my first round on the hallowed links. It was not one of my best rounds.

I was a single sandwiched between two foursomes, playing an unknown course.It was a memorable round nonetheless. Even if the shots were not particularly good, and the golfer was confused and somewhat at loose ends, the day was warm and pleasant, the course was strikingly beautiful, and I had played one of the world's best courses.Later that day Judy and I played the Struie Course which is the 2nd course on the Dornoch links.

It was then under development and not particularly outstanding. On our second visit in 2003 the Struie Course had been much improved and was well worth playing.The next day we had the opportunity to explore some of the local points of interest. A trip up the coast to Dunrobin Castle at Golspie was well worth it. The falconry exhibit was outstanding.

In the afternoon we played the golf course at Brora, further up the coast another 15 miles or so. It was perfect Scottish golfing weather. The gusty wind was blowing in off the Firth bringing short bursts of light rain punctuated by sunny breaks.This was one of those rounds you never forget. Brora is one of the few courses in the world where neighbouring sheep and cattle are free to roam the links and the greens are fenced off with electrical wire.The course features lots of interesting shots over rugged grazing terrain.

If you manage to survive with a fairly decent score, that can quickly be ruined by a miscalculation at 18. It's a longish par 3 (190) with a huge catchment area in front of the elevated green sitting right up beside the club house.After a thoroughly enjoyable round we visited the dining room in the club house for an early dinner.

Then we headed back to Linlithgow to prepare for the next leg of our journey -- our trip out past Loch Lomond and down the Kintyre peninsula that juts out into the Irish Sea.

.Rick Hendershot publishes several golf travel websites | Hotelkatalog - Hotelinformationen Hotelbilder Klimadate | Florida Mortgages - Free CD and workbook.

By: Rick Hendershot

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